London International Wine Fair: Exhibitors and the on-trade both need a more positive attitude

Drinks: Wines
Other: Business

Too much negativity surrounds the London International Wine Fair – from both exhibitors and the on-trade. Hamish Anderson states his case

‘A bloody waste of time. I told all my suppliers to stay away but this one wouldn’t listen.’ So spoke a suitably forthright small supplier as he dolefully manned the stand for one of his Austrian estates at this year’s London wine fair at ExCeL.

It is very easy for those in the on-trade to knock the show (too big, too far away, too irrelevant). And this year it certainly had a surreal, otherworldly feel.

Oh, there was the same packed train journey, the same dismal breakfast of poor croissant and a cappuccino made from scalding, burnt milk and, initially, once inside it seemed all was well.

The agency stands were still staffed by suited, over-confident, perma-grin clones, most of whom seemed to have been recruited from failing estate agents. It was also reassuring to find that the credit crunch hadn’t affected the number of comedy products in attendance. My favourite was the pomegranate wine stand, manned by scantily clad platinum blondes. By 11am it was doing a roaring trade with Majestic and Oddbins van drivers.

The first sign that something was amiss was when I found somewhere to sit and study the catalogue inside the show. At last, I thought, someone had seen sense and provided seating areas to rest weary feet and plan the next tasting. Then it dawned on me: these were stands that had not been filled, and the seats were there to cover holes in the floor plan.

While a few smaller suppliers had been tempted to come for the first time, it seemed to me this year again saw a drop in the number of important on-trade suppliers who attended – Great Western Wine being the most obvious.

I doubt an unremarkable Vin

de Pays d’Oc Viognier has ever

won any new business

The strangest thing for me was the negativity of the exhibitors and, by extension, of the visitors. Stand after stand of gloomy sales reps got me down after a while. The attitude seemed very much ‘I just need to get through these three days, pour some wine and go home’.

Perhaps it was the wine they were being asked to pour: flight after flight of ‘good value’ generic blends designed to see us all through these difficult times.

The right idea, I am sure, but I doubt an unremarkable Vin de Pays d’Oc Viognier has ever won any new business, whereas the unopened stellar Condrieu producer from the same supplier might well have done the trick.

Frankly, it seems like it’s time everybody got a grip and stopped complaining about the Trade Fair. It is what it is, and has a huge amount from which sommeliers can benefit. If you are going to go, there does not seem much point arriving with a negative attitude.

Of course, the wine fair is different to other shows – it’s bigger and requires preparation and effort if you are to get the most out of it. You can’t just turn up and expect to taste table after table of great wine. And yes, there is plenty of dross. But the general public drinks plenty of dross and someone has to sell it to them.

On the plus side, it attracts an international array of winemakers. European winemakers might be able to nip over to the UK at will, but those from further away cannot. This year legends like John Duval and Tony Jordan were in attendance. Stay away, and you have missed your opportunity to interact with two Australian icons.

Sure, it would help if suppliers did a bit more to give the impression that they want to be there, rather than attending under duress. Is it too much to ask for a bit more effort from all concerned next year?

Oh, and I’ll be placing an order for some Grüner from the aforementioned supplier, so maybe it isn’t such a ‘bloody waste of time’ after all.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – July / August 2009

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